It’s Time to Freeze!
It’s that time of year when we’re all like hermit crabs hiding inside our shells. The days are short and sunlight is minimal. When the short or long days of winter — depending on your preference — are upon us, I like to hibernate in my kitchen. Aside from the holidays, I like to do a lot of preparation of hearty and homey meals that my entire family can enjoy for months down the road. Not to mention that it’s super easy to pop a meal into the oven on a busy day and still have a good wholesome meal for my kids to enjoy.
I used to make meals and put them in our outdoor freezer for a later time, but how much time? I usually caught myself spending a moment with the freezer door propped open to think about how long ago I put that lovely dish into the deep freeze. But, is it still okay? It’s been a few months and maybe I shouldn’t feature this on my table tonight.
I’m sure you’ve been down this road as well. Many times those meals that I spent so much of my hibernation time fixing for a later date end up in the bottom of the garbage. Not only is that a waste of time, but it’s a huge waste of money!
After doing a little research, I realized that those bundles of joy that I put into the freezer might not last as long as I once thought. So I changed my philosophy! In the past, I would put the date on the dish when I put it into the freezer. Now, I put the expiration date on the food instead. This way I know what needs to be eaten and what has a little more resting time in the climate controlled dungeon.
Here are a few great ideas that I use in my kitchen that will keep things simple and help make dinner a breeze.
Flash Freeze Protein
Instead of tossing leftover, uncooked chicken breasts or other pieces of protein in a freezer bag, place them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the freezer for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then grab them up and toss them in one big freezer bag. This way you can use as many pieces as you need without having to thaw out the entire bag, and you’ll know exactly what you have left. This simple trick is great for chicken breasts, fish and pork chops.
Go On and Brown
Brown your ground turkey, chicken, beef, or pork and then drain. Once it’s fully drained and has cooled, put it in a freezer-safe container and set it in the freezer to use at a later date. This way you have saved one step already in the preparation of your meals and you’ll be ready for dinner in a flash.
Breakfast Right Out of Bed
Mornings can be tough in my house, but preparing breakfast muffins on a weekend allows me to get ready for weekday breakfast meals for everyone. Simply pull out what you want to eat that day, pop it in the microwave for a few seconds, and a perfect and healthy meal will await you.
Skip The Bulk
Large plastic containers can be troublesome for many modern day freezers. Try replacing your large plastic containers with plastic freezer bags instead. Chili, sauces, and stews are all great to add to plastic bags. Remove all the air and lay them flat. They’ll store well and cleanup is a breeze.
Deconstruction At Its Best
We’ve all heard of deconstructed “X, Y, Z” on the restaurant menu. Now it’s time to take that philosophy home. Want Sloppy Joes for supper? Put your Sloppy Joe mixture in a plastic bag, freeze the buns alongside the meat mixture and you’ve got a great meal without an extra stop at the grocery store. You can also break down recipes with raw ingredients into bags, and then place them in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook you have an entire meal prepped and ready for dinner in a flash.
For the best freezer results and to get the greatest shelf life out of your freezer meals, make sure to cool the food first. When you cool your food it reduces the size as cold items retract. This is the key to keeping those sauces, stews, and soups nice and flat in bags. It also reduces condensation on containers.
Throw It Out
You know the rule, “When in Doubt, Throw It Out.” If something is already questionable in your fridge, don’t toss it in the freezer. The likelihood of your getting sick is just as possible after it’s frozen as it was in the fridge.
Did You Know?
You can freeze some very non-conventional items. Check out a few of these that you might not know about. You can freeze:
- Nuts and Seeds
- Bread – Perfect for small households where it’s impossible to consume an entire loaf of bread before it goes bad.
- Fruit – If it’s too ripe, just toss it in the freezer and don’t let it go to waste. It’s great for smoothies or cobblers.
- Stock, Juices, and Flavored Liquids – If you need to preserve that chicken stock before it goes bad, put it in an ice tray and freeze it. Once it’s good and frozen, remove the cubes and place them in a baggie for later use.
Thaw It Out
It’s frozen. Now what? Safely thawing your frozen items is just as important as proper freezing techniques. These suggestions are the safest way to thaw foods before consumption.
- In the Refrigerator – Although it’s not always the fastest, it’s the safest because it slowly brings the food back to a cool temperature for consumption. With a little bit of pre-planning, this is the safest way to enjoy your freezer meals.
- In Cold Water – Yes, COLD, not hot. Place frozen items in a bowl or pot of cold water for 30 minutes and then replace with more cold water, if necessary. Again, this keeps the food at a safe temperature during the thawing process.
- Microwave – This method can actually lead to uneven thawing, but in some cases it is a sure, fast way to get your frozen items thawed quickly. Uneven thawing can cause bacteria growth, so when thawing fruits and vegetables using this method, consume them immediately.
- Room Temperature – Breads, pastries, and muffins are the only items that should be considered when using this method to prevent the growth and development of bacteria.
By using these tips, you’ll be ready for the cold winter days ahead and on the path to easy meal preparation for your family. To share your tips or suggestions on great freezer meals visit us at dcfocusmagazine.com.